The Holy Land

At this moment I am sitting in the Bethharram Convent in Nazareth. I had thought to post some reflections on the Sunday readings while I was away only to discover that technology has let me down and the texts I had so carefully begun are lost somewhere between my laptop (in Brisbane) and my iPad in Israel. I had thought also that maybe by now I might have seen the Sea of Galillee and could therefore have spoken authoritatively about storms on the lake. Galillee is for another day. It is both exciting and frustrating to be here. There are of course many devotional sites – some of which we have visited – but there is almost nothing that might give a hint of what Nazareth might have been like in Jesus’ time.

The city has been destroyed on many occasions since the first century and what we see now is a modern, Palestinian city. Many scholars believe that in the time of Jesus, Nazareth would have been a small Jewish settlement (possibly with strong ties to Jerusalem). All the evidence seems to suggest that at this time there might have been only fifteen families resident here – somewhere between 300-500 people. It is probable that they lived in one of the many limestone caves that now lie beneath the city. Some, like that beneath the Church of the Annunciation have been significantly altered as a result of devotional practices, others are more original. The caves are cool and make a great deal of sense for life during hot dry summers.

 

Limestone cave in Church of the Annunciation

 Understanding the geography and nature of first century Nazareth gives some cause for thought with regard to the way the Jesus’ story is presented in the gospels. For example, while there might have been sufficient men in Nazareth to form a gathering (synagogue), it is extreme unlikely that a structure that could be called a synagogue existed as LUke suggests. Likewise it is equally difficult to imagine the villagers trying to push Jesus off a cliff when the nearest “cliff” is some distance away.

Knowing the geography and learning about the history is wonderful, but we have to be careful, as our guide says that we do not “mortgage truth to history”. By this he means that we should not be so concerned with absolutely provable concrete facts that we lose the truth of two thousand years of faith. 

Will continue to be fascinated with the geography and history of this land, I will be keen to discover as much as I can of the historicity of our faith, but I will never lose sight of the deep insights that are to be found in our scriptures and of the eternal truths which they and our traditions contain.

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